Filed Under Architecture

Viaduct Power House

Prior to its absorption into Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company (C.E.I.), Brush Electric Light & Power Co. developed the equipment used for Cleveland's first electric streetcar line. The line was operated under the East Cleveland Railway Co., with the streetcars being powered by a Brush-developed generator. Not everybody was excited about the success that these innovations and developments brought to their inventors. Heavily involved in the city's street railways, Marcus Hanna saw the need to respond to his rivals' actions. Recognizing the immense profitability associated with street railways, Hanna famously referred to his control of such lines as his own savings bank. In order to preserve his lucrative position, Hanna quickly recognized the need to develop along with his rivals. He therefore commissioned the building of a new powerhouse to generate power for his own electric streetcar line; the Woodland Ave. & West Side Street Railway Co. (W&WSSR).

The Viaduct Power House was built in 1892 on the west bank of the Cuyahoga River. C.E.I., who powered the east-side rival of Hanna's west-side line, responded by building the Canal Road Station in the Flats in 1895. Thus situated on opposite sides of the Cuyahoga River, just across from each other, these two streetcar powerhouses were the only such facilities of their kind in Cleveland.

Hanna granted the commission for the Viaduct Power House to architect John N. Richardson, formerly of the renowned firm Cuddell & Richardson. The Scottish-born, Cleveland-based architect was regarded as one of "the most important and innovative architects in Cleveland during the 1880's." As part of Cuddell & Richardson, he designed many of Cleveland's architectural gems including the Franklin Castle, St. Joseph's Franciscan Church, the Perry-Payne building, and the Bradley building. Richardson designed the Powerhouse in the Romanesque revival style; built to resemble the European factories of the time with gabled roofs, arched windows, and thick window sills made of stone. The original structure was built in 1892, and was the first power plant dedicated to providing electricity to streetcars in Cleveland. However, the 1898 absorption of Hanna's W&WSSR into the Cleveland Electric Railway Co. (CER) resulted in a significant 1901 addition, nearly causing the Powerhouse to double in size. Despite this expansion to meet the demand of more streetcar lines, the powerhouse did not thrive long thanks to the rapid rise of the automobile. Cleveland's streetcars officially gave way to the automobile in 1920 when the CER permanently ceased operation, and the Powerhouse closed.

Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, the old Viaduct Power House, restyled "The Powerhouse," acted as a turnstile for several comedy clubs, restaurants, and even retailers. As of 2012, the 70,000 square-foot edifice serves as a mixed-use entertainment complex still rooted in its foundation as an industrial facility. The most recent addition to the Powerhouse is the Greater Cleveland Aquarium. Funded by Jacobs Entertainment at a cost of $33 million, it was designed by the New Zealand-based company Marinescape, which has a reputation for refurbishing preexisting structures as aquariums. Paying homage to the Viaduct Power House's industrial past, the aquarium incorporates exposed brick walls, coal tunnels, smokestacks, and steel girders into its decor.

Images

Streetcars on the Viaduct This photograph from June 1912 shows a bustling Superior Viaduct during the heyday of the Cleveland Electric Railway. The Powerhouse can be seen in the upper-right corner, not to mention the streetcars that it powered along the viaduct. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
The Powerhouse, 1975 After the CER left the coal-burning Powerhouse, the building continued to create steam for municipal uses until it was finally abandoned in 1926. Three years later, the Globe Steel Barrel Co. (GSB) made use of the building to recondition barrels. The building didn't change hands again until 1970, when the Cleveland Metal Products Co. (CMP) obtained the Powerhouse for use as a warehouse. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Development Plans, 1975 After many years of abandonment, the Powerhouse became the physical base for VSM Corp.'s proposed $5 million development project. The project intended to transform the edifice along the lines of the Cannery-Ghiradelli Square development in San Francisco and Trolley Square development in Salt Lake City, by placing a theater, cinema, restaurants, and office spaces inside the old edifice. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Interior of Model for Proposed Renovations, 1975 This model of the Powerhouse shows the multi-level construction planned for converting the then 84-year old structure into a $5 million entertainment-amusement-shopping-office complex. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Exterior of Model for Proposed Renovations, 1975 This model of the proposed Powerhouse development in the Flats shows the designer's intention to blend the contemporary annex, foreground, with the pre-existing Romanesque Revival design of the original 1892 structure. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
A Shell of Its Former Self, 1975 Despite Cleveland's gloomy economic outlook at the time, a Cleveland State University urban studies professor had optimistic projections for the Powerhouse renovation project. Unfortunately, a lack of funding caused the project to fold amidst initial sandblasting repairs a mere four years later, leaving the building abandoned and a literal casing of its former self. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
The West Bank, 1979 Not until 1988 would ground be broken for another $17 million renovation project to reopen the Powerhouse in 1989. This time the project was lead by the Flats Development Inc. and Jacob Investments for inclusion in the Nautica entertainment complex. Today, it is home to the Greater Cleveland Aquarium. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections

Location

2000 Sycamore St, Cleveland, OH 44113

Metadata

Matt Sisson, “Viaduct Power House,” Cleveland Historical, accessed August 18, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/459.